Monday, June 29, 2009

Recession Happy Hour

A friend of mine recently hosted a happy hour with the stipulation it was either two-buck Chuck or a bottle of $5 something. A worthy challenge!

I picked up a bottle of Lambrusco at Trader Joe's for 4.99. I love the stuff, and only discovered it after poring through a wine-pairing cook book. Like a little sparkle in your wine? Lambrusco is the ticket.

I had a bottle of rose hanging around, and even though I wasn't a fan, I brought it. Another guest, gifted foodwise, plopped a strawberry into her coupe, and it became the rage. And, what do you know, the rose was now a wonderful summer tipple.


Friday, June 26, 2009

Splitsville, USA

Love is no longer in the air.
Forget about Jon and Kate, Sandra Tsing Loh, who's had her finger on LA's cultural pulse for over a decade now, has announced the end of her marriage in the Atlantic Monthly. In my circle of friends during the past year there have been three divorces and another one within my family. I will miss my sister-in-law, we shared many a bottle of champagne together. Sigh.

So what do you say to the recently unbetrothed? Congratulations or condolences?

A recommended menu of items which neatly balance the two:

Champagne cocktail: add sugar and a dash of bitters to your glass of champagne.

Hard-boiled egg in salt water (ever celebrate Passover? The salt water represents salty tears.)

Oaxacan mole (all that prep and sweat will make you forget your troubles)

End your meal with a pound of the best damn bittersweet chocolate you can afford.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Goofy Gadget Award Winner

I walked in and out of Williams Sonoma the other day. So many delightful things to wish for: perfect crystal martini glasses and tumblers. An $8,600 La Cornue stove. Clean dish towels. The gadget that sent me right out again, however, is above. It's called a meatball grill basket. (Better picture here). I'm afraid I may get some flack for this one: I may be restless but I'm not nuts. Want meatballs? You go through all that work of mixing, seasoning, then breading? Then cook them on the stove, in a skillet, so the breading is nice and brown. Or are you really just making round hamburger patties? Bleh.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Crazy simple pizza dough

According to Jared Diamond, agriculture was the worst mistake in the history of the human race. Between these two posts, one regarding pizza at an upscale LA eatery, the other about the goddess of grain, I got to thinking about agriculture. Sure, Jared, a tragedy of hierarchy for most of us, but think of the benefits for our taste buds!

Which is the long introduction to today's topic. Instant yeast has forever altered the way I perceive baking. I used to dread sprinkling yeast into warm water. What the hell is warm water anyway? I knew I was doomed. With instant yeast, however, temperature control is no longer a problem or a challenge. Measure and mix, and poof! Up inflates your dough.

Crazy simple pizza dough

(I wish I could credit the source, I copied it from a cook book onto a recipe card, without citing the original author)

3 cups flour
2 tsp instant yeast
2 tbls olive oil
2 tsp coarse salt

Combine these dry ingredients in your food processor. As it mixes gradually add one cup of water through the feed tube.

Turn dough onto a floured work surface, knead to form a smooth round ball. Put the dough in a bowl, cover with a damp cloth and let rise until it doubles, 2-3 hours. Use immediately, or wrap tightly in fridge for 1-2 days. Can freeze up to a month! Defrost in a covered bowl in fridge or room temperature. Makes 3 small pizzas.

Bake at 475 degrees 13-15 minutes.

Need an off-beat topping? I love Marcella Hazan's Pizza bianca alla Romana:

Chop four anchovy filets, mix into 6 ounces shredded mozzarella, douse with a couple of tablespoons of olive oil. Spread over pizza crust. Shred half a cup of basil, sprinkle over cheese.
Grate a tablespoon of parmesan cheese on top. Slide onto your preheated pizza stone; bake 15-20 minutes. Salty, cheesy and wonderful.

And, yes. If you're going to the trouble of making your own pizzas, use a pizza stone. The crust is crisp and delicious, not soggy and sad.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Farm Eggs

Yes, yes, I know. I'm supposed to cut back on dairy and all animal products for the betterment of society and humans. And I am cutting back, not out of concern for my health, but out of concerns for the animals involved. That's why I buy cage-free eggs. But if you watch my "last cooked" gadget, you'll see I'm often cooking huevos rancheros, or farm eggs.

Per person you will need:

A corn tortilla
An egg
A dollop of refried beans
Green sauce

First, the beans. Working under the premise that a pot of pinto beans is a staple in your home, like mine, heat a tablespoon of lard in a skillet. When hot add 2-3 cups pinto beans (including liquid from the beans). Using your potato masher, squash the beans into a lumpy or smooth puree. Add water if it seems too dry for your taste.

In small skillet heat your green sauce. I use a combo of Herdez and Las Palmas; you can, of course boil, blend and cook down your own tomatillos. But that makes me tired even to contemplate. Crack an egg in the sauce, cover, turn the heat to low.

As the egg simmers ladle a dollop of refried beans on your plate, flash fry your corn tortilla in half an inch of hot hot hot vegetable oil, cover the beans with the corn tortilla. Gently pour the sauce and egg over the tortilla. Garnish with a grating of cotjia cheese.

That should keep you going till noon---

Monday, June 15, 2009

A Tale of Two (or more) Gumbos

When I was a kid my parents knew a couple with whom they were good friends. They played cards together, drank together, and one memorable afternoon, cooked gumbo together. I don't know what the other ingredients were, but I remember these huge crab legs. And the result: fabulous! Exotic and delicious.

Families move; friends change. In our now upscale suburb we had an upscale family whose grandmother flew in from Minnesota, and made us gumbo.
My, what a a difference. I remember the box it came from, and a kind of brown sludge served over white rice.

A few years back a friend and I cooked for a parent party. She drew from her Louisiana background and the two of us cooked tall, steaming pots and pots of gumbo. Chicken and sausage in one pot, shrimp and crab in the other. Couples balanced wine glasses and paper bowls and plastic cutlery, and had a rollicking good time.

But since I am not from Louisiana, I really had no guiding recipe to fall back on. Until recently.

Gourmet magazine did a version of Edna Lewis's gumbo. In between shmoozing with Tennessee Williams and Marlon Brandon, and growing older, apparently this woman had a talent for cooking. I give you her recipe here. My only modifications have been to occasionally add sausage and chicken. In either case, we return to the roots of fabulous!

Friday, June 12, 2009

Frugal Fridays: Bread

It's June and it's still damp and clammy outside. So instead of cursing the darkness, light the oven. A faithful reader tells me her husband has "been making this amazing bread." If you watch the five minute video you'll see you will not need:
a bread maker
a pizza stone
a brick oven
a time to knead the dough.

You will need:
flour, instant yeast, a pinch of salt, a covered dutch oven or pyrex dish, and an oven that gets up to 500 degrees. Oh, and time to let the dough rise.

Want the skinny? Click here for the recipe. It's cold today, and I can't wait to test run it!

Monday, June 8, 2009

Simple Summer Cobbler

It was cold Saturday. All right, so not cold, but overcast. As any native Californian knows, one never dresses according to the temperature outside, but according to what the temperature looks like it might be.

Kinda like cooking. Overcast and gloomy? Turn on the oven. To 375 degrees.

This past week Ralphs had a terrific deal on nectarines, and they were good. When I returned for another couple of pounds I noticed the clouds and promised myself dessert. My family thanked me.

You will need:

7-8 skinned and sliced nectarines. Or any other stone fruit you've got plenty of. I peel them with a vegetable peeler, the super ripe ones have skin that slips right off. If you're using peaches you cut a little cross at the end farthest from the stem, and drop them in boiling water for 15 seconds. You should be able to tear off the skin from the cross easily now.

Sprinkle the fruit with a couple of tablespoons of sugar, depending on how sweet the fruit and how sweet you like it. Squeeze a tablespoon of lemon juice on it. Mix well.

As the fruit macerates blend 1/4 cup brown sugar, 1/4 cup flour, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, a grating or two of nutmeg. With two knives or a pastry blender cut into this two tablespoons butter. (I cheat: I dice the butter into tiny pieces while it's very cold, then mix/mush it into the flour with my fingers).

Spread the fruit mixture into a pie tin, and sprinkle the topping over it all. Bake for half an hour.

Don't want to fight over the topping? Double the recipe.

Feeling unloved? Top with lots of vanilla ice cream.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Frugal Fridays

I used to buy my coffee beans at Starbucks. I loved the thought that for a pound, I also got a free drip. Then a more enlightened relative introduced me to Trader Joe's Pajaro coffee (fair trade, organic, no pygmies slaughtered for these beans) at half the price, and I was a convert. Then another relative introduced me to this nifty espresso maker. Now, you can find espresso makers for a little under $2000. I think they grind the beans, brew the coffee, and change the baby. We found the model pictured above at a garage sale for $1. Now I use half the amount of coffee. The very same blood relative introduced me to the handy dandy frother, available on ebay or Ikea for pennies. (500 pennies or so). You heat your milk, switch the frother on, and bing, instant foam.

Yesterday, pinched for time, I had to stop into Starbucks for a cappucino. I sipped, and shook my head. It didn't taste quite like it should.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Skin Deep

Where do good little chefs go? Straight to Surfas in Culver City. Say nighty night, Sur La Table and Williams-Sonoma, this place has the high end without the mark up.

Need a dozen inexpensive ramekins for creme brulee? They got it. Want a lemonade dispenser for the kiddie party? A meat grinder for your husband's crazy sausage obsession? Gold, silver, or plain white doilies for the dozens of cakes you're gonna whip up? Got, got, and got it.

Okay, belt-tightening's going on, and in order to do my part for the economy without appearing ostentatious I bought tartlet molds with the removable bottoms ($1.49, how could I resist?). a roll of parchment paper (under $5), a tube of harissa (consider it Moroccan salsa) and a medium sized vat of dried mushrooms (under $10). Throw in the afore mentioned ramekins, a quiche mold, and a restaurant ready creamer, and we still managed to escape for under $50.

As the commercials say: Heaven, priceless.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Taco Time

The first time I saw pre-made taco shells I was flabbergasted. It did not compute in my kid brain. Later I noticed packets of Lawry's taco seasoning. Perhaps a generational thing? Even now, this lady recommend tablespoons of "fajita spices." I'm confused.

Just in case you are, too, here's a favorite recipe of mine, for chicken tacos.

Tacos for four hungry people:

1) Poach two whole chicken breasts, or four chicken legs (thigh and drumstick). as the chicken cooks add couple of cloves of garlic and a couple of slices of onion to the water. If the word "poach' makes you shiver with terror, replace it with the phrase: "cover the meat with water, bring to a boil, and cook at a low and gentle simmer" until the chicken is cooked through and tender. (See how nifty the word "poach" is?) Remove from broth, cool, and shred.

2) As the chicken simmers coat the bottom of a medium skillet with vegetable oil. Saute half a diced onion. Add 1-3 sliced jalapenos, with or without seeds, depending on your love of spice. Continue to saute. Add 2 cups diced tomatoes, canned or fresh. Cover and let cook on low for a few minutes.

3) Add the shredded chicken to the saute pan, add a couple of tablespoons of the broth to keep moist, stir until heated through and well-mixed.

Are you with me so far? Here comes the fun:

4) Heat 8-12 tortillas over a gas flame, until the tortillas are soft and pliable, not charred at all.

5) In another saucepan fill with 1/4 inch of oil. Heat on high.

6) In each corn tortilla add a tablespoon or two of filling. Fold your tortilla over, like an envelope, or a burrito, with the ends open. Where the tortilla edges overlap, seal with a toothpick.

7) Fry your tacos on each side, in batches that fit in your saute pan.

Serve with this, this, and that!

What kind of tacos do you make? Or, eat?